Liberty is not sure what the full identity of their renewed team should be. But they are confident in one aspect of it.
“I want teams to be scared when they have to attack,” said forward Natasha Howard, who won the WNBA Player of the Year award in 2019 when she was at the Seattle Storm.
This will be Howard’s second season with Liberty, but in many ways and for many reasons, it is unlikely to be similar to his first. The team has a new head coach (Sandy Brondello), a new veteran center (Stephanie Dolson) and players said a new commitment to become a champion contender after the season starts on May 6th.
“There is a sense of urgency,” defender Sabrina Ionescu told Freedom Media Day on Thursday. He added that the team did not want to wait years to get better and had “why not us?” Mentality.
Liberty finished last season 12-20 and finished eighth in the playoffs. They lost to fifth-seeded Phoenix in a first-round single-elimination match against Mercury. The team has been plagued with injuries all season: Jocelyn Willoughby tore the Achilles tendon in a pre-season collision; Howard missed 15 games due to a knee injury; Ionescu had a long ankle injury.
All three returned and said they were feeling well.
“I’m far ahead than I was before,” Willoughby said.
Another returnee is the guard Asia Dur, who goes to A.D. Durham, the second overall draft of 2019, missed the past two seasons as they recovered from Covid-19. On Thursday, Durr said they still had to deal with confusion and brain fog, but that Liberty’s teammates helped.
“It was quite difficult to be patient every day,” Durr said in his last three words.
Like Howard and a few others, Dur has mentioned defense as the focus of this year’s team. Brondello, who coached before the Mercury final last season in his eighth year on the team, said he wanted Liberty to have an “aggressive mentality”.
More points in the paint. Less torque. Not satisfied with external shots. Draw more foil.
“We are trying to develop a tough team,” Brondello said.
At the core of the team are players like Ionescua; Howard; Betnija Lane, who hit his first all-star team last season; And Michaela Onyenwere, 2021 WNBA Rookie. “I’m always looking for growth,” Lenny said, adding that he is surrounded by great players.
They are joined by Dolson, who won the championship with the Chicago Sky last year.
Dolson, a 6-foot-5 center who is in his ninth season, said he loves posting – even though people think he is not – and that teams will find it hard to confront him and 6-foot-2 Howard.
“It’s hard to scout when a player in both positions can do something,” he said.
Dolson averaged 7.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game last season, shooting 40.4 percent from the 3-point range. Last season, Howard averaged 16.2 points and 7.2 rebounds in 13 games.
Veterans like Howard and Dolson will be key to Liberty’s success, but there will also be young players who spoke on Thursday about how they grew up and what they still need to improve.
“I lost so much last year,” said Di Richards, a sophomore.
Richards said he was often on his own while on the court, instead of being vocal, but is working to change it as coaches ask him to take on the role of a bigger leader. “I am ready for that,” he said.
Onienne spoke confidently about the defense – “There really is no ability; “It’s all effort,” he said, but also said he wanted to improve his attack after scoring just 32.7 per cent from the 3-point range last season.
Defender Three Whitcombs, who rose 42.5 percent from 3 points last year, is the team’s most prolific and best long-distance shooter. He came to Liberty last year after four seasons in Seattle and said he was excited to help the team create a new identity. But, he said, it will not happen “overnight.”
However, some things are happening fast in the sport – for example, the transition from a WNBA perspective to a Liberty rookie.
Liberty traded with Storm on April 11 in the draft for the 18th pick and used Lorella Cuba, a 6-foot-4 forward from Georgia Tech. Four days later he signed a new contract with the team. Three days later the training camp started.
On Thursday, he said he had developed as a facilitator before working at Georgia Tech and hoped to use that skill with Liberty. “I just want to put my teammates in the best position to score,” he said.
One thing to leave in Georgia: food. Cuba, who is from Italy, joked that he would not miss the Atlanta pizza now that he is in New York.